I’m alive and kicking

On 18 October, the South Gauteng High Court (SGHC) gave its judgment pertaining to Congress of the People (Cope) matters that had been in front of it since February 2011 when Mr Lekota obtained an interim interdict against me. The interim interdict remains in place to date, despite our attempts to have it heard on more than three occasions.

In my view it has taken the form of a banning order from participating in activities of COPE against the wishes of the majority of its members. A democratic organisation whose affairs should be adjudicated by its members democratically has a 'president' who has been imposed by the courts since May 2010. No wonder some refer to Mr Lekota as the president of the courts!

The court was asked firstly, to look at whether or not the Cope congress of May 2010 held at St George's Hotel was a congress, and whether it could validly amend the constitution. And if it could, whether it made an amendment on the quorum from two thirds to fifty percent plus one of those eligible to attend the congress.

In this regard the court ruled that yes, it was a congress and that save for electing leadership, which it was interdicted by Lekota from doing, it could amend the constitution and indeed it did. However, the court could not see on the video provided where such a change occurred, neither was it convinced by witnesses that the amendment on the constitution did take place.

Secondly, the court was asked to determine that if the congress did change the quorum, was that then used in in the December 2010 elective conference held at Heartfelt Family Church in Thaba-Tshwane near Pretoria. Based on his ruling on the point of the quorum, the judge ruled that the congress could not have taken place and that therefore the Heartfelt central national committee (CNC) is null and void.

Consequently, that the leadership agreed in Bloemfontein remains the leadership. This means that everyone, including those who were expelled by Lekota or were no longer going to his meetings, but are still Cope members, remain part of the leadership and not just his current shadow CNC. Whether he will do so or not is a different matter.

Thirdly, having argued that the courts have no place in deciding matters of leadership, we had asked that the court rather compel the party to hold an inclusive congress. For reasons known to him, the judge turned down this application, but curiously ruled that were the congress not to be convened by the CNC, the members could go to court to seek a mandamus requiring it to do so. In other words, compel by court order such a call as the one he has turned down.

Fourthly, the court was asked to lift the interim interdict that he had granted in February 2011. For technical reasons he ruled that it was not before him.

So, contrary to what Lekota says - that the courts have had a final say on the matter in this regard - the judge only ruled on leadership, a point I will come to later.

So the interim interdict remains and still has to be heard based on Lekota's request or anticipated by myself - something I intend to do as soon as is practically possible.

Therefore, while the court has ruled on the legitimacy of the Bloemfontein leadership led by Lekota, it has made no ruling on my purported expulsion from Cope, a matter that still needs to be decided by the courts. In fact, the judge in his own way has accepted our proposition not to accept the shadow CNC of Lekota, but reinstating the Bloemfontein leadership which is inclusive of those of us who are currently kept out by him to prepare for an inclusive congress.

One of the issues often raised with me is: why in light of all the infighting in Cope do I not simply walk away from the party. There are a number of reasons why I have no intention of abandoning ship at this point in time.

Firstly, the issues have less to do with me and more to do with whether Cope will have internal democracy or will become a monarchy where the King or Queen rules until he or she departs from the land of the living.

In addition to the interim interdict against myself, a couple of provincial and national leaders duly elected have been replaced by Lekota even as the court has ruled that leadership can only be replaced through an election.

How do we say to South Africans we stand for democracy when we cannot practice democracy in our own organisation? Imagine what the outcry would be were President Zuma to go to court to remain at the helm even as the voters may have decided otherwise or his term of office had ended!

Lekota would be among those going to court to force Zuma to respect the Constitution. In the same way, I have all the intention of working with others even if I am ousted to ensure that the Cope constitution reigns supreme and the internal democracy becomes the hallmark of the organisation.

Secondly, the interim interdict was sought following my purported expulsion for stealing R20 million from the R20 million given to Cope by Parliament. I want to give Lekota the opportunity to place and prove the allegations in a court of law rather than make wild allegations from the rooftops. In any case, as proven in the case against Ms Hilda Ndude, Cope has no disciplinary procedures that could have been used against me, a fact confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Just last week following the ruling of the SGHC, Lekota closed the Cope office in eThekwini where Lucky Gabela, the Cope member of the provincial legislature (MPL), operates from. The reason? To force Gabela to bow before him on something he refuses to do. Lekota is planning on replacing a number of MPLs from the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu Natal, Western Cape, Gauteng and North West for the same reason. A number of the people he seeks to replace are people who supported him in 2010, but who now oppose his authoritarian approach to matters of Cope.

On Thursday last week the Cope caucus was abandoned when Lekota insisted on excluding Ms Ndude from the caucus even as she has been reinstated by the courts. In another words, the decisions of the courts are law unless they go against him. In fact, Ndude has been excluded from his shadow executive even as she has been reinstated as the national treasurer of the party, just as happened with many who were not invited to the last shadow CNC despite the court ruling that it recognises the Bloemfontein leadership. It is a matter of historic record that the majority in the caucus who have now turned against him also supported him when I was still a member of the caucus, clearly showing that this is not about me but about the chosen direction for running Cope as if it is his own fiefdom.

Can these matters not have been dealt with internally rather than going to court? I have always held a view that courts have no place on political matters especially as it pertains to internal democracy. Every attempt at having the issues discussed internally and, ultimately by an inclusive congress, have failed, with Lekota saying he prefers the courts to membership engagement.

Where to from here? I have made no decisions on what to do beyond Cope, especially were the court to uphold my purported expulsion. What I am more clear about is that while one should never say never, especially in politics, I have no immediate intention of joining any political party or forming one to contest the 2014 elections.

I have often said that one can be politically active without being party political. There are many ways to strengthen our democracy, even if one is not a member of a political party. The key is to help nurture young people, most of whom want to make a contribution but do not want to be part of a political party.

Does Cope have a future? I think so, and more so because the ideas for which it was established remain relevant. In fact, even those who at the time did not agree with us now agree that we were right. The challenge facing Cope is to convince the electorate that it remains relevant, that this is not about individuals but the country. It may also have to look at political realignment, not on the basis of opposition to the ANC but on creating a new majority to respond to the challenges facing our country.

In any case, a hobby I started with friends to produce a wine known as the Epicurean may suddenly become a fulltime career, alongside the one I occupy at the moment as a housewife!

So to paraphrase Mark Twain, 'reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated'.

Mbhazima Shilowa is a co-founder of the Congress of the People.